Home Economics 101

From the pages of the May 30, 1925 New Yorker, and the pen (or typewriter) of one John C. Emery, a mildly funny bit on how Calvin and Grace Coolidge practice what they preach in terms of thrift:

I have just returned from a week-end in the White House with Calvin and Mrs. Coolidge and of course you want to know if Calvin is as economical in running his household as he is in running the government. Well, he is – or even more so. After two days with him, I thought I’d never go back to my old lavish ways. I mentally resolved to cut out smoking so many expensive cigarettes – think of it, fifteen cents for only twenty of them – but I guess my old habits were too much ingrained. Anyway, I’m smoking Pall Malls now instead of Camels.

The President’s invitation – written on the back of a used laundry list- was not to be denied, of course, and I arrived in Washington early the following Saturday morning and took a cab up to the Coolidges’ although I could just as well have walked.

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James Thurber: Mr. Hoover or Mr. Coolidge?

From the venerable pages of The New Yorker, January 30, 1932 (p. 13), here’s a little gem of a column by the incomparable James Thurber.

Purported (and subtitled) to be “a resumé of the letters to the editor which will appear in the “Herald Tribune” during the next few months, compiled so that you won’t have to read them all,” the piece made fun of the anticipated hankering of some Republicans and voters a Coolidge candidacy (something Coolidge himself had ruled out), and went like this:

To the New York Herald Tribune: I endorse most emphatically the letter of Mr. George W. Kent entitled “Draft Calvin Coolidge.” If we could all know for certain that Mr. Coolidge would be a candidate for the Presidency this year, confidence would be immediately restored and business would start on the upgrade. Coolidge for President and Prosperity would give us all new courage and would put an end to the depression. Unless the Republican Party nominates Mr. Coolidge it is doomed to a disastrous defeat next November. Mr. Hoover cannot possibly be re-elected. All right-minded people want Coolidge and Prosperity. (signed) Disgusted Republican, New York, Jan. 30, 1932

To the New York Herald Tribune: I say three cheers for Discouraged Republican and for Mr. George W. Kent, whose letter I missed but who seems to have the right idea also. The election of Hoover would inspire the country with new hope, while the re-election of Coolidge would only add to the depression. Count me in. (signed) J. H. PHIPPS [Ed. Note: Mr. Phipps seems to have confused the names of Mr. Hoover and Mr. Coolidge.]

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The absent-minded Ambassador

From left: Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Elisabeth Morrow, Dwight Morrow. Taken in early 1931

Still engrossed as I am reading about Dwight W. Morrow, friend and Amherst classmate of Calvin Coolidge’s, I also found irresistible a couple of anecdotes about Morrow’s alleged absent-mindedness culled from the pages of The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section (vintage 1926):

One story, quite often related, discloses our new Ambassador to Mexico in the Grand Central Station in a deep and restless study, interrupted by an occasional search into his pockets. An acquaintance asked him if he had lost his ticket. “Worse than that,” the financier said, “I have forgotten where I was going.”

On another occasion, while pacing up and down during an earnest conversation with a distinguished businessman seated in his office, he is reported to have absently used the visitor’s bald head to knock the ashes from his pipe.

He is known to have stepped into an elevator of an uptown hotel and to have directed the operator to take him to the Bankers Trust Company.

Mr. Morrow left office one morning to catch a train. A few hours later he called his secretary in New York over the long-distance phone. “Springer,” said he, “why am I in Philadelphia?”  His secretary’s voice showed anguish. “You should have gone to Princeton, sir, to make a speech,” he replied. Mr. Morrow got to the college on time, but he barely made it.

Then there’s the story often retold within J. P. Morgan of Morrow riding a train. When the conductor asked for his ticket, Morrow couldn’t find it and restlessly searched every one of his pockets when all the time the ticket was clenched between his teeth. “I bet you thought I didn’t know it was there,” he said to the conductor. “Actually, I was just chewing off the date.”

And once, while taking a bath, he called out to his valet for a soap that lathered better – the problem turned out not to be the soap but the fact that he was still wearing his pajamas at the time.


I would like to give Morrow’s old friend Calvin Coolidge the last word on these episodes. In his foreword to a 1930 campaign biography of Morrow, he writes:

It is said of him by the flippant that he thinks of others so much and of himself so little that when he takes a train he does not always know where he is going. But he never started for anything when he did not reach his destination. He always arrives.

Uncle Calvin’s No-Waste Games

Famed humorist Robert Benchley contributed an item to the January 9, 1926 issue of The New Yorker (I do seem to plunder the New Yorker archives a bit these days, and I should add that of course all these materials are © The New Yorker).Typing this, I thought it wasn’t really one of Benchley’s better efforts.

Uncle Calvin’s No-waste Games

“There is a time for play as well as a time for work. But even in play it is possible to cultivate the art of well-doing. Games are useful to train the eye, the hand and the muscles, and bring the body more completely under the control of the mind. When this is done, instead of being a waste of time, play becomes a means of education.” — President Calvin Coolidge’s Christmas Message to the boys and girls of the nation.

And now come, boys and girls, it’s play-time! You have worked hard enough for one day, and Uncle Calvin is going to teach you some peachy games to clear the cob-webs out of those brains of yours. Play-time! Play-time!

But first of all we must remember that play in itself, is a waste of time. And who remembers what we learned yesterday about Wasted Time? The boy or girl who wastes time, or anything else, is just as naughty as the boy or girl who steals, for, after all, wasting is stealing, isn’t it? And play, just for the sake of play, is stealing time which belongs rightfully to our parents, our teachers or our country. And we don’t want to be known as thieves, do we?

So the games which Uncle Calvin is going to teach us are games which will do us good in one way or another. While we are playing them we shall, at the same time, be helping to make our eyes, our hands, and our minds more efficient. And, as we play, we must keep thinking: “Is this helping me? Or am I wasting time which I ought to be devoting to my lessons or my work or my country?” The first game that we are going to play is called


This is just lots and lots of fun – and good for your eyes, too. The boys line up on one side, and the girls on the other. Now Uncle Calvin will stand over here and write on the board a lot of little teeny-weeny figures, problems in percentage, and we will see which can read them off and answer the problems the faster – the boys or the girls. Come now, boys, you don’t want the girls to beat you, do you? All right. . . ready, get set. . . go!

((More fun and games after the cut))

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A Coolidge poem

Calvin Coolidge, by then (just barely) ex-president, and his election to the board of the New York Life Insurance Company served as the inspiration for a short New Yorker poem by E.B. White in the magazine’s April 20, 1929 edition:


I Want To Be Insured By Calvin Coolidge

I want to be insured by Calvin Coolidge,

Oh let me buy a policy from silent Cal!

I want to get the benefit of Calvin’s knowledge

In taking out a twenty-thousand mu-tu-al.


I want to pay my premiums to Calvin Coolidge,

I want to take them person’ly to North-amp-ton,

I want to build my character and save for college,

And leave my heirs a pretty pence when life is done.


I wouldn’t get insured by Darwin Kingsley*,

Or Lawrence F. Abbott, or Willard King,

When I can get insured by Calvin Coolidge…

And life will lose its hollowness and death its sting.

*probably Darwin P. Kingsley, former president of the Chamber of Commerce of New York

Wolcott Gibbs on Coolidge

I confess to a weakness for The New Yorker – for years, I subscribed to that magazine, looking forward every week to its beautiful cover and urbane, witty, informative, far-ranging content. In recent years, this enjoyment was progressively dampened by the persistent left-wing bias of its political reporting, and I haven’t held a live copy in my hands for quite some time now (although I do look at the website occasionally).
But truly, the history of this unique magazine is one of many marvelous essays, cartoons, poems, short stories, and criticism, with names such as John Updike, Pauline Kael, Herbert Warren Wind, Susan Orlean and many, many others standing out in my mind.Others, such as Joseph Mitchell or Robert Benchley, were a little before my time but representative of the golden age of the magazine.
Deservedly or not, one name that is largely forgotten today is that of Wolcott Gibbs. A brilliant writer and editor, humorist and parodist, he worked at The New Yorker from 1927 to his death in 1958. He was working on his book More in Sorrow at the time of his death, and the following piece on Calvin Coolidge, originally published in slightly different form in 1929 (note to self:  find the original on my full set of The New Yorker on CD-Rom), is taken from this compilation. Honesty compels me to admit that I found this item on a left-wing blog that I link to only in the spirit of proper attribution. While Gibbs’ account of Coolidge as a comedian in the Chaplin or Harry Langdon mode obviously differs much from the approach this blog takes, it nonetheless is quite funny on its own terms. And frankly: what would we rather have, the president as existential comedian, or as larger-than-life action hero? Me, I’d prefer the former.
(Read the text of “Glorious Calvin” after the cut)

Hertzberg constructs Obama’s speech

Having received my own info about Obama’s press conference (or “presser”, as media types like to say) solely from sites such as reason.com, where it was roundly trashed, as well as from -what I thought- an incisive commentary from Peggy Noonan, I was surprised (well, not really) by Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker. As if to underscore my recent posting about constructivism, he appears to construct reality in an entirely different way when he concludes the American people (or that portion actually watching the “presser”, which I suspect is not too many) will “like” the President’s proposal. Polls indicate otherwise, but then they’re probably dismissed by the Obama cheering section at The New Yorker.